Published April 10, 2020 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Language Development During Interstellar Travel

  • 1. Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas
  • 2. Department of Linguistics, University of Southern Illinois


This paper explores the consequences that language change might trigger in the languages of crew members during a long journey in space or interplanetary settlement. Languages drift apart as communities grow more isolated from each other, so the long isolation of a traveling community may lead to enough difference to render its language unintelligible to the original community it left. This problem may compound as later vessels bring new crews with their own changed languages to mix with those from earlier crews.

We discuss various aspects that contribute to language change, through comparison to historical Earthbound cases involving some of these aspects, such as the Polynesian settlement of far-flung Pacific islands, and dialect development in relatively isolated European colonies. We also weigh the effects of multilingualism amongst the crew, with or without a common lingua franca in use, as well as the effects of time and the role that children play in language change and creation. As we lay out possible outcomes, we also suggest possible methods of shaping this development within limits.



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